The San Francisco 49ers currently have this claim: Being the only NFL team that has turned two of their defensive coordinators into head coaches since 2021. And it’s happened under an offensive whiz in head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Robert Saleh was the first from the Shanahan branch to take a head coaching gig. But on Thursday, February 2 in a phone interview with NFL insider Aaron Wilson, the New York Jets head coach broke his silence on seeing DeMeco Ryans get his elevation to head coach in taking the Houston Texans job.
“DeMeco is awesome,” Saleh said to the NBC 2 Houston insider, who was playing a round of golf on a family vacation. “He’s going to do great. This is a really cool opportunity for him.”
Ryans was inside linebackers coach when Saleh was the mastermind behind the 49ers’ defense. Saleh also shared a name he had for the new Texans leader.
“Captain ‘Meco: phenomenal, family man, obviously relatable,” Saleh shared. “As a former player, he has that empathy and relatability. He’s very, very smart. He’s always trying to learn. I think that’s what you appreciate the most out of him.”
Saleh Dives Into What can Separate Ryans From Other Coaches
Saleh earned a trip to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season with the 49ers. Once Ryans took over his old 49ers role, S.F. went on to back-to-back NFC Championship games and got the defense to ascend to the No. 1 overall ranking.
And Ryans accomplished that as a decorated NFL defender who earned two Pro Bowl nods with the team he’ll now lead into 2023 — proving he was capable of transitioning from hard-nosed linebacker to highly-touted coordinator. Saleh, himself, admitted to Wilson that this kind of transition isn’t easy for someone in Ryans’ shoes.
“Former players, most of the time, it’s an adjustment,” Saleh said. “You have to learn a way to teach it. The natural instinct is you want to teach it the way you did it, but not everybody is like you.”
Ryans, again, found a way to make it work and in the process, became one of the more wanted coaches for this cycle. Saleh became impressed by how Ryans added new titles to his football resume.
“DeMeco was an All-Pro football player. He remade himself into a teacher and learned all the ways that guys can play the game to implement what he learned to maximize all the guys around him, that’s what makes him special,” Saleh said.
Could Saleh Take in a 49ers Free Agent?
Meanwhile in “Gang Green” land, Saleh is facing a crucial decision in his forthcoming third season with the Jets: Who becomes his quarterback.
Chatter of his first draft pick ever Zach Wilson getting traded continues to intensify. Names like Derek Carr, Lamar Jackson and Aaron Rodgers have sprouted as possibilities. But there’s another name that bears watching with a past connection to Saleh: Jimmy Garoppolo.
Shanahan on Wednesday told reporters that there’s no scenario where the 49ers will have Jimmy G for 2023. Already, NBC Sports Bay Area has the Jets as a strong suitor.
“Garoppolo’s best runs with the 49ers came when the team fielded a mostly healthy and vigorous defense that ranked at or near the top of the NFL. That could also be the case should he join the Jets, with Zach Wilson’s time with the franchise also looking to be over rather abruptly,” wrote columnist Sanjesh Singh. “It helps that New York is head coached by Robert Saleh, a familiar face during San Francisco’s 2019 Super Bowl run. The Jets’ defense is already robust and can improve next season, while the offense will be anchored by new coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who had just a one-year stay as Denver’s head coach in 2022.”